You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Property Known as Garland

Adrienne Barbeau stars in a one-woman account of Judy Garland's life, set in Garland's dressing room on the night of her very last concert. And there are certainly times when "The Property Known as Garland" camps it up, with Barbeau sloshing around in a feather-coated pantsuit and clutching a bottle of pills. Those flourishes never quite satisfy, since the play only dabbles in excess before shifting to another of its many tones.

Judy Garland - Adrienne Barbeau Ed - Kerby Joe Grubb

It sounds like the campiest thing since J. Edgar Hoover. Adrienne Barbeau, scream movie queen and Broadway’s first Rizzo, stars in a one-woman account of Judy Garland’s life, set in Garland’s dressing room on the night of her very last concert. And there are certainly times when “The Property Known as Garland” camps it up, with Barbeau sloshing around in a feather-coated pantsuit, clutching a bottle of pills and screaming she was glad when Busby Berkeley went insane. Those flourishes, though, never quite satisfy, since the play only dabbles in excess before shifting to another of its many tones.

Though it has a capable star, “Garland” ultimately lacks a point of view. Instead, director Glenn Casale and scribe Billy Van Zandt (Barbeau’s husband) court every perceived audience for their material.

Sometimes we hear a beyond-the-grave echo of “Elaine Stritch at Liberty,” with Garland delivering corny jokes and light-hearted anecdotes about her showbiz pals. The humor is lame — “I was obese!,” we’re told. “That’s O. Henry’s second cousin” — and Barbeau is uncomfortable with the rhythms of cabaret patter. Her awkward timing and repetitive, sing-song delivery keep these “intimate” moments feeling stiff.

Fortunately, thesp loosens up when the production veers toward self-pity. Allowed to rage against her unloving mother, the callous studio system and the burdens of fame, Barbeau taps some fierce anger that’s thrilling to watch. She also gives her malice a playful edge while tormenting Ed (Kerby Joe Grubb), the stage manager who occasionally pops in to meet her ridiculous pre-show demands.

To its credit, the production doesn’t downplay its nasty side. We see the star as a childish, needy bitch who nevertheless blames everyone she knows for making her feel so sorry for herself. Barbeau doesn’t take her frenzy to “Mommie Dearest” heights, so these displays make the character strident and pathetic instead of laughably over-the-top.

If it stayed in that harsh place, the show could leave auds with uncomfortable, worthwhile questions about the distance between stage life and real life. But the production diminishes its blemished heroine by telling us how to understand her faults.

Namely, we’re meant to pity her. Her monologue is often interrupted by voiceovers from the past that ham-handedly prove she suffers. “You’re a hunchback,” screams the voice of Louis B. Mayer, or her mother chimes in to tell her she’s no good. Furthermore, everyone keeps referencing the play’s title, lest we forget that Garland was treated like property.

When Barbeau makes her final exit, bathed in harsh spotlights and crying, “You’ll never know this kind of love, Mama … (The crowd) loves me!,” we’re meant to ache for a girl who got abused by fame and only found love from strangers.

We should, of course, be trusted to evaluate this character ourselves, but it’s hard when she’s such a muddle. Not quite campy shrew, not quite suffering victim, not quite the girl next door, this may be the only version of Judy Garland that fails to make an impression.

The Property Known as Garland

Actors' Playhouse; 170 seats; $65 top

Production: A Barry Krost presentation, with Sally V. Winters, Mark Fleming and Jane Milmore, of a play in one act by Billy Van Zandt. Directed by Glenn Casale.

Creative: Set, Charlie Smith; costumes, Cynthia Nordstrom; lighting, Richard Winkler; sound, Jill BC DuBoff; wig design, David H. Lawrence; production stage manager, Tom Schilling. Opened March 23, 2006. Reviewed March 20. Running time: 1 HOUR, 20 MIN.

Cast: Judy Garland - Adrienne Barbeau Ed - Kerby Joe Grubb

More Legit

  • Signature Theatre Celebrates Millionth Subsidized Ticket

    Signature Theatre Offers $35 Subsidized Tickets, Celebrates Millionth Sold

    Just the other night, a Manhattan cab driver told Signature Theatre executive director Harold Wolpert that he couldn’t afford to take his girlfriend to a show. In response, Wolpert motioned to his theater, saying that they offer $35 subsidized tickets. The driver said he’d try it out. “It was a great moment,” Wolpert said. “We’re [...]

  • SOCRATES The Public Theater

    Tim Blake Nelson Waxes Philosophical on Writing a Play About Socrates

    Despite Tim Blake Nelson’s knack for playing folksy characters in films such as “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” in his soul lurks the heart of a classicist. Nelson, who stars in HBO’s “Watchmen” series this fall, has also penned the play “Socrates,” now running at New York’s Public Theater through June 2. Doug Hughes directs, [...]

  • TodayTix - Brian Fenty

    TodayTix Banks $73 Million to Boost Theater and Arts Ticketing App

    TodayTix, a Broadway-born mobile ticketing start-up, is looking to expand into a bigger global media and transaction enterprise with a capital infusion of $73 million led by private-equity firm Great Hill Partners. The investment brings TodayTix’s total capital raised to over $100 million, according to CEO and co-founder Brian Fenty. Part of the new funding [...]

  • Ethan Hawke, Bobby Cannavale and Griffin

    BAM Gala Marks Leadership Change, Celebrates Brooklyn as 'Cultural Center of New York'

    Wednesday’s annual gala celebrating the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) served as a poignant moment of transition for the New York stalwart of contemporary performance. As long-time artistic director Joe Melillo, who along with Harvey Lichtenstein transformed BAM into a vanguard of progressive art, prepares to pass the torch to new leadership, gathered patrons and [...]

  • Tootsie Santino Fontana

    Listen: Santino Fontana on How Broadway's 'Tootsie' Was Adapted for Our Times

    Broadway’s “Tootsie” has turned into one of this season’s Tony Awards frontrunners, winning raves for its deftly funny update of potentially problematic source material — and for a firecracker cast led by Tony nominee Santino Fontana (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Frozen”), who makes his character’s transformation, from difficult actor Michael Dorsey to female alter ego Dorothy Michaels, [...]

  • Death of a Salesman review

    London Theater Review: 'Death of a Salesman'

    August Wilson famously disavowed the idea of an all-black “Death of a Salesman.” In 1996, he declared any such staging “an assault on our presence and our difficult but honorable history in America.” Arthur Miller’s antihero is no everyman, Wilson implied; Willy Loman is very specifically white. Critic John Lahr was inclined to agree: “To [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content